History By Edwin P. Sallan
Red De Asis Pictures
Often referred to as the City of Love or the City of Smiles, Iloilo is the capital of its densely populated eponymous province, a highly urbanized economy and, yes, a sought-after tourist destination. And for good reason.
Those who have never been to Iloilo City or those who have been but haven’t really taken a closer look at this wonderful metropolis are missing out on fully appreciating its rich history and culture.
Luckily, we had a golden opportunity to see the city of Iloilo up close on a recent media familiarization tour organized by Citadines Amigo Iloilo, formerly known as Amigo Terraces Hotel.
Now with an all-new look and boasting Citadines’ signature “aparthotel” treatment pioneered by real estate giant CapitaLand and its subsidiary The Ascott Limited Philippines, Citadines Amigo Iloilo breaks new ground as the premier serviced residence concept in the Western Visayas. Combining the comforts of home with the conveniences of a hotel, Citadines Amigo Iloilo is designed to appeal to passing tourists, visiting business people, expats and, of course, discerning Ilonggos.
Camiña Balay nga Bato
During our three-day visit to Iloilo, our first stop was Iloilo’s famous Camiña Balay nga Bato or translated as “house by the river” at Osmeña Street. You’ve never really been to Iloilo if you haven’t set foot or dined at this ancestral home at least once. Built in the mid-1800s, the way it managed to stand the test of time can be attributed to its sturdy materials which included bamboo, nipa and Narra wood, among others.
It is just one of the many examples of 19th century Spanish architecture that is prevalent throughout the city and which not only recalls an era that characterized the lives of the wealthy Ilonggos, but also the generations that followed in addition to its furnishings old. There are also remnants from the decades that followed, including vintage transistor radios, typewriters, telephones and, more recently, even early model cell phones.
Of course, good food is another big reason people go to Camiña Balay nga Bato, and the buffet lunch we were treated to was simply unforgettable. In addition to his signature Pancit Molo and Batirol’s famous Tsokolate, his mostly indigenous Ilonggo dishes included Hinanggop, Ratotoy, Empanada Giring-giring, Embutido de Arevalo, Pancit Miki Bisaya, Pork Binuog with Hot & Spicy Dip, Kalo-Kalo Kalkag Rice ( KKK) and the very refreshing Calamansi with Cucumber Cooler.
And you can have them and more for lunch and dinner at a surprisingly affordable rate of just P500 for a minimum group of 10 strictly by reservation at least one day before the scheduled meal.
Miag-Ao Church and Hablon Weaving Community
The next day we went to Miag-Ao to visit its famous Miag-Ao Church also known as Santo Tomas Villanueva Parish Church. Founded in 1731 and is one of only four Baroque churches in the country, its magnificent structure is a sight to behold.
According to our guide, the most distinctive feature of the church is its two huge bell towers which also served as watchtowers to defend Miag-Ao against Moros invaders. The two belfries are of unequal height as the three-tiered East belfry is one level shorter than the four-tiered West belfry.
Elements of medieval Spain, as well as 18th-century Chinese and Muslim influence, abound while locked in a glass case at the back of the church are images of Saint Thomas of Villanova to whom the church also bears the name and dates from the 1790s.
Also in Miag-Ao is the Pangabuhian Fiber Weaving and Processing Center which is apparently one of the centers of the Hablon weaving community in Iloilo. Taken from the Hiligaynon word which means “to weave”, Hablon is a high quality textile made from locally made fabrics such as piña and abaca and is known for its colorful combinations.
The traditional art of Hablon weaving, with all its intricacies passed down from generation to generation, also dates back to the 18th century and continues to dazzle locals and passing travellers. Hablon products are also sold outside the weaving centers, notably in Camiña Balay nga Bato.
We had lunch and dinner at two of the most popular restaurants in town. For lunch, we went to the Breakthrough restaurant in Arevalo, which specializes in popular dishes such as Binakol nga Manok and Sizzling Kansi. For dinner, head to Muelle Deli and Restaurant located along the historic Iloilo River. Although its name suggests it’s Italian-inspired, the restaurant serves a fusion of traditional and international cuisine, including a wide range of pasta, pizza, and meat dishes that will particularly appeal to diners with big appetites.
City Cars Amigo Iloilo
Between these visits, we spent the rest of our weekend in our cozy rooms at the Citadines Amigo Iloilo. As in the other Citadines Appart’Hotels, my “apartment” unit had its own living room and included a fully equipped kitchen with a stove and a microwave, which was especially ideal for preparing the take-out La Paz Batchoy that I had between trips and meals.
Located right in the heart of the thriving capital city of Iloilo and surrounded by popular and accessible popular sites, including SM City Iloilo which is just a short walk away, Citadines Amigo Iloilo is positioned to be the ‘home in the heart of the city’. With 121 rooms and a full range of facilities, including laundry facilities, fitness center, swimming pool and soon to be open all-day dining, there’s absolutely no reason not to feel at home. self here.
“With its unparalleled accommodation and service, Citadines Amigo Iloilo offers a unique travel experience as the city’s booming economy allows visitors to see the best of traditional culture and modern development,” noted the resident manager. Gerald Fontanos.
Indeed, the Iloilo City experience is one best enjoyed when booked in worry-free accommodation provided by a place like Citadines Amigo Iloilo where one can feel at home even while away from home.
Image credits: Red De Asis